Showzam! Blackpool: When the circus comes to town

Polly Checkland Harding
Photo of the giant puppets

Four days of circus, cabaret, carnival balls and an inflatable whale with a story in its belly? Showzam! returns to Blackpool.

Circus, in the era of slick screens and virtual worlds, has kept a semi-mythical place in our imaginations. Here, chalk dust eddies under the lights and people contort impossibly, like folding bikes. These feats are still something that people run away from home for and, unlike CGI stunts, there is actual physical danger involved – as you’re reminded of when somebody stumbles. The performers who are part of Columbian circus company Circolumbia rarely do, though, despite a programme of near-miraculous acts – which is one of the reasons why they’ve been chosen as the highlight of a festival of circus, magic and variety in Blackpool.

With giant beasts, a chilling peep show, a bearded lady and a disco-rave milk float all on the programme, Showzam! is shaping up to be the kind of festival that transforms a town. Across four days, carnival celebrations spread through the streets and buildings of Blackpool and, at its heart, is Circolumbia. What’s most astonishing about this internationally celebrated circus troupe is that each of its fourteen performers have come from a difficult start in life in the city of Cali, Columbia. Through five hours of physical training every day, they now perform some of the most challenging routines in a circus repertoire – such as being sprung from a giant seesaw to land elegantly on the top of a human tower.

Circus, giant beasts, a chilling peep show, a bearded lady and a disco-rave milk float

If you’re after something less edge-of-the-seat, and more extravagant, then try Showzam!’s Carnival Ball. Channelling Gone With the Wind and scheduled on the eve of Valentine’s Day, the ball takes place in the glorious Blackpool Tower Ballroom. It’s hosted by legendary comedian and drag queen Jonny Woo; expect a mix of sideshow curiosities (a bearded lady, fortune telling), a hazardous and hilarious performance from Abi Collins, and Kitty Bang Bang’s burlesque performance.

The action doesn’t only occur inside. Stalking Blackpool’s streets are a flock of ‘Sauruses’ – giant, bird-like creatures that are thankfully not quite so scary as they appear – while kids have their own pirate adventure (inside a 50ft inflatable sperm whale, naturally). Elsewhere, there’s an old-fashioned butchery market booth that serves up curiosities instead of cuts and a “mecanocomik show” from inventor, entertainer, comedian and clown ULIK. Be brave and have a go at mastering some of the skills you’ve seen on show, or enjoy/endure the Total Theatre Award-nominated Little Box of Horrors, a five minute nightmare of a peep show. All in all, it’s a confusing, whirling and curious mish-mash of happenings – and a festival that looks set to transform the seaside streets of Blackpool. And, as of old, there’s sure to be a bit of magic when the circus comes to town.

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